Activists in South Korea yesterday floated balloons carrying tens of thousands of anti-Pyongyang leaflets into North Korea, eluding police who had disrupted an earlier launch attempt amid threats from North Korea.
North Korea's military had warned last week that it would strike if the South Korean activists carried through with their plan to fly balloons carrying the propaganda leaflets across the border. South Korea pledged to retaliate if it was attacked.
South Korean police, citing security concerns, had sent hundreds of officers to seal off roads and prevent the activists and other people from gathering at an announced launch site near the border. Residents in the area were also asked to evacuate to underground facilities, according to local official Kim Jin-a.
Later, some of the activists, mostly North Korean defectors, moved to another site near the border that was not guarded by police and carried out the launch of the balloons. South Korea's Defence Ministry said it was closely monitoring North Korea's military movements but there were no suspicious activities.
Before taking action, the South Korean government had implored activists to stop their campaign, but had cited freedom of speech in not making further attempts to intervene.
South Korean activists have in the past sent leaflets across the border, and North Korea has issued similar threats to attack without following through. But Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported that a ban on entering the border area was imposed as South Korea detected North Korea uncovering artillery muzzles and deploying troops to artillery positions in possible preparation for an attack. Yonhap cited no source for the information.
Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said North Korea was believed to have acted in line with carrying out its threat. He declined to elaborate on the North's army movements, which was confidential information.
He said South Korea had bolstered its military readiness after the North's threat and would "strongly" retaliate if attacked.
The activists said they floated balloons carrying about 120,000 leaflets critical of North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un and his country's alleged human rights abuses.
They wanted to let North Korean people know the true nature of their country.